I’m a huge fan of The Phoenix Project and I’m honored to count Gene Kim both as one of my professional inspirations and also as a personal friend. There is, however, a dangerous precipice inside of the Phoenix Project that, if misunderstood, could cause many DevOps practitioners and enterprise IT shops a daunting problem in adopting and progressing in the ways of DevOps.
Roadmap or Roadblock?
One of the main concepts discussed in both Kim’s The Phoenix Project and Goldratt’s The Goal is “the bottleneck” and what what to do about it. The basic premise explained is that all actions to increase throughput before a bottleneck, pile work up at the bottleneck and all actions to increase throughput after a bottleneck create a void of work to address after the bottleneck. The logical conclusion from this idea is that: in order to have a net positive effect on throughput, action must be taken at the, holistically viewed, tightest constraint on throughput within the operational system.
This concept model is both accurate and valuable as the IT shop and the manufacturing floor have a lot in common. The power of this concept model, also happens to be where the aforementioned dangerous precipice is revealed – getting alignment on which bottlenecks to focus on can turn into a multi-month effort in many enterprises which can require consultants, workshops, deep-dives, process studies and other activities that are at once highly valuable and not always likely to be approved by a shop that has not fully bought in to the three ways of DevOps.
One of the lesser understood secrets of corporate america is that even when you have formal authority, permission is required to do almost anything of substance. One “no” from the wrong party can kill even the most promising initiatives. This “veto effect” doesn’t require an absolute “no” either. Much like a parent saying “let me think about it”, the veto effect only requires the absence of a “yes”. This absence can take the form of “maybe”, “let me think about it”, “let’s wait and see”, or even a “run this by the other department heads and see what they think”.
Given that any reasonably sophisticated roadmap takes more than a few weeks to develop, vett and roadshow around a medium to large enterprise, a mature DevOps roadmap suffers from a classic chicken/egg paradox for many organizations. I extend my deepest sympathies to those who have found that a clear and easily understood roadmap can somehow both provide and require the catalyst to consensus and permission to proceed in the ways of DevOps. You can take heart, however, in the fact that neither you, nor DevOps, are alone in this conundrum as this is what can be referred to as “the corporate condition” that we must all bear.
While company may not always provide solace to the miserable, there is however, another way.
Just Follow the Sun
What is this one side road still available to you that has the power to relieve almost any non-alignment traffic jam? Start heading west! Just like the American pioneers, you can start following the sun to the wide open spaces of DevOps land where automation is plentiful and provable performance gains via instrumentation are gold. All you need is one or two comrades with some skills worthy of the road ahead and you can be off!
Just because you can’t get the unix team to automate environment creation, doesn’t mean you can’t head west and automate your build processes. Just because you can’t automate your entire production deployment doesn’t mean you can’t head west and automate your performance testing and benchmarking processes. Just because you can’t get everyone to agree on the tightest constraint, doesn’t mean you can’t head west and alleviate the ones you already know about. To head west on any of these things, you don’t need full concensus, you only need a traveling partner or two.
The Trail Has Already Been Marked
For mid to large size enterprises, a true DevOps transformation happens over the course of three or more years. Allowing a lack of consensus to become a total standstill is not the right answer. The tool at your disposal to overcome the veto affect is public consciousness.
Take UX design principles for example. It was less than a decade ago that design activities were considered a luxury item that produced pretty pictures; and then Apple happened and tipped public consciousness over. How many people are willing to casually veto design now?
When public consciousness to the value of DevOps tips over, it will no longer be you going to the powers that be to get the “OK to proceed”. It will be them coming to you and asking “what is taking so long?”. In that one moment, you’ll be able to fire back at them: “Here’s my roadmapping proposal. I’d love to have you be my business owner!”